Home field advantage: French automakers awe in Paris
With introductions like the Renault EOLAB and Citroën C4 Cactus Airflow in the days leading up to the 2014 Paris Motor Show, it became obvious that the French had big plans for their home show. French automakers, big and small, didn't disappoint, showing a multitude of highly stylized, tech-heavy concepts and vehicles during the show. They had such a strong showing, in fact, that we thought it appropriate to give them a dedicated space separate from our main Paris wrap-up. Here's what the French have to say about modern vehicle design.
The most interesting thing at Citroën's booth wasn't the new Cactus Airflow concept, but a little concept car from its new premium spin-off brand DS. From afar, it looked like a standard-enough compact hatchback, but once we got closer, the wild details leapt forward.
Those details include the scale-like facets running down the roof and tailgate, the shimmering mesh grille, and the multi-textured "hypertypage" interior with its passenger-embracing drape. The reptilian back scales completely eliminate the rear windshield of the concept, but pop open to give the rear-view camera a fix on the road in back.
If you're scratching your head and futilely Googling "hypertypage," you're certainly not alone. We had absolutely no idea what it meant when we first read it, and DS' description of "three interchangeable interior universes, each with a unique and compelling personality" wasn't all too clear. It wasn't until we dug up the full, unabridged Divine press kit that we found a more lucid description. In short, DS uses the interior to take customization to the next level, highlighting three highly distinct packages that can be swapped out in 15 minutes' time.
The "Male" interior treatment combines glazed, burnished leather with carbon fiber for a strong, masculine feel. "Parisienne Chic" travels in the opposite direction, emulating the more feminine world of haute couture fashion with ivory-colored leather, pleated silk satin and embroidered crystals and beads. "Fatale Punk" creates an ambiance similar to a late-night rock club with deep-black padded leather, studded crystals and shimmering Swarovski Crystal Fabric door panels.
The Divine DS gets power from a 270-bhp 1.6-liter turbo engine. Its LED headlamps are augmented by laser diodes, providing a lighting boost at speeds over 37 mph (60 km/h). The lasers automatically adjust based on camera detection of other vehicles, preventing one from blinding fellow drivers.
Peugeot first revealed the stylish, two-tone EXALT concept at the Beijing Motor Show back in April, and it mixed up the concept's dress for the Paris show. The exterior still features a mix of bare steel and "shark skin," only the latter is colored gray instead of the red clay of the original EXALT car. We prefer the pop of the red, but the subtle transition of the multi-material design on the Paris show car still looks pretty good.
Inside, the updated EXALT loses the ebony wood of the Beijing car in favor of "newspaper wood" material throughout. The recycled black-and-white pages find a brilliant second life as a visually-enhancing trim.
The new EXALT still pulls power from the 340-hp HYbrid4 system featured on the original. The car also includes a separate power system – the small powertrain on the HYbrid-Kick concept scooter stowed neatly under the trunk floor. The folding scooter is imagined as a solution to "last mile" travel, providing a means of getting around the city.
PGO Automobiles Coastline
Major French players PSA Peugeot-Citroën and Renault weren't the only French marques with something new to show. Some of the most interesting cars came from smaller, lesser-known brands like PGO Automobiles. Having not been all too familiar with PGO, I found all the cars at their exhibit quite intriguing, but the stand-out was the Coastline, a nautically-inspired special edition prepared for the Paris show. The car's oceanic inspiration is apparent in its colors, teak trim and open-air design. PGO lists the price at €60,000 (about US$76,130) with a 181-hp, 1.6-liter BMW engine and a six-speed automatic transmission.
4H Automobiles Explora
Some French offerings came across as off-the-wall, none more so than the designs at 4H Automobiles. The brand had a display of small electric vehicles, including the aptly named Locust and the go cart-like Explora. The latter is an open, sit-atop electric designed with work applications in mind. The 485-lb (220-kg) vessel travels up to 62 miles (100 km) by way of a 4.8-kWh lithium-iron phosphate battery and 9- or 15-kW motor.
My first experience with the funky, electric Courb C-ZEN came outside the show, where I saw it parked next to the media building. Its small, distinctive design made me curious enough to cross over and take a look at what it was. A day later, I came across the Courb booth inside the show and studied it a bit more closely.
The diminutive, 1,572-lb (713-kg) C-ZEN was launched at the 2012 Paris Motor Show. The car's 15-kW electric motor drives the wheels for up to 75 miles (120 km) with power from a 12.1-kWh lithium-ion battery. The "classic" version starts at €25,000 (US$32K).
Be sure to take a look at some of the show's other French stand-outs, in the photo gallery.